Learn English Grammar Without Memorizing Grammar Rules

1By Leslie Woodford

You’ve studied for several years, but trying to learn English grammar puts you to sleep. You are starting to feel comfortable with the language. You understand most conversations and can follow the thread when watching movies; you can carry out your day-to-day activities and can interact with native speakers, but your English grammar needs work.

You’ve tried all the grammar books but haven’t made any progress. This article teaches you how to learn grammar without studying grammar rules. It assumes that you are surrounded by native English speakers. (You can still apply these tips if you are not, but you’ll have to work harder to create language opportunities.) Let’s get started: how to learn English grammar without memorizing grammar rules.

Lay the foundation: Read

How much do you read in English? Do you do any pleasure reading in English? If not, start there. Ask the librarian at your local library to select books in English that match your current abilities. For example, if your conversational skills are at an intermediate level, i.e. you can speak on familiar topics, ask and answer simple questions, initiate and respond to simple statements, and carry on face-to-face discussions, I’d recommend that you start with children’s picture books. The pictures are engaging, and the stories entertaining. They are short enough for you to not get discouraged, and the language is varied enough to expose you to a rich pallet so you can learn English grammar and vocabulary.

I love Cinderella stories; many variations on this tale exist. Some of my favorites are Ella’s Big Chance: A Jazz-Age Cinderella by Kate Greenaway, Fanny’s Dream by Caralyn Buehner, and Bubba the Cowboy Prince by Helen Ketteman. Speaking of Helen Ketteman, I also love her Aunt Hilarity’s Bustle; besides being an entertaining story, this has a rich set of vocabulary.

If your English skills are at the advanced level, for example, you are able to participate freely in most casual and some work conversations, able to give simple directions or explanations at work, and able to talk about past and future events, then you might want to try young adult literature.

Keeping with the Cinderella theme, one of my favorites is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I also love serial books — books that have more than one book in the same series — the Little House on the Prairie series is a timeless classic. The Harry Potter books have taken the world by storm; I’ve enjoyed them. If you undertake this series, you will certainly learn English grammar since some of the books have more than 500 pages.

If your skills are still at a beginner level, don’t fret. For example, if you are able to ask questions and make simple statements based on memorized sentences, understand conversation fragments and simple commands, then look for beginning readers. Beginning readers are designed for children just learning to read. These books have simple vocabulary and short sentences.

Once you find the right level of books, start reading regularly. I recommend reading at least twenty minutes per day. As you do so, make mental notes of the grammar structure. As you find grammar constructions that regularly puzzle you, note them on paper to discuss later with a native speaker. It will help your pronunciation and fluency if you do at least part of your reading aloud. Keep reading. As your skills improve, select books that are more difficult.

You might wonder how all this reading will help you learn English grammar. Jim Trelease is an expert on reading. In his book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, he explains how reading helps grammar: “Grammar is more caught than taught, and the way you catch it is the same way you catch the flu: you’re exposed to it” (6th edition p. 41). Think of these readings as English grammar exercises, the more you expose yourself to correct grammar, the more you’ll be able to use correct grammar.

Build your skills: Write

You may spend several months focusing on daily reading in English. Once daily reading becomes second nature, it will be time to turn your attention to writing. You’ll need a helper for this. Find a native speaker who can help you practice and drill you on English grammar exercises. This person will become your mentor. Choose someone who is patient and who can commit some time to help you learn. Look for someone who might have time available — a retired person, for example. Your mentor does not need to be a professional language teacher. In fact, it might be better to get someone who is not a professional because then she will not have pre-conceived ideas about how you should learn English grammar.

Eventually, you’ll want your mentor to create drills for you to practice grammar patterns that you find difficult. But first, let’s start writing. Try capturing your weekend experiences (or other meaningful events) on paper. Select experiences that are meaningful to you and write them down in your native language. Then translate them.

It might seem like you are taking a step backwards to write first in your native language. You might think: “Hey, I already know my language; I want to get better at English. I want to be able to think in English without having to translate.” Patience; I want you to think in English too. The reason for this extra step is because you write in more complex sentences in your native tongue. If you write the stories directly in English, you are likely to use simpler grammar and vocabulary. Translating from your native language forces you to use more complex English than you would if you wrote first in English.

Next, have your mentor correct any grammar errors. Also, ask him to make sure that the English doesn’t sound awkward. Use this time to have him explain, if possible, why certain constructions are incorrect or awkward. Have patience with him, though; sometimes he might say, “It doesn’t sound right.” During this process, make sure that you watch for errors that you repeat over and over. Finally, create drills to practice saying these things correctly.

Summary

In summary, using these two techniques will help you learn English grammar. Reading will be fun and will expose you to correct English. Writing about your experiences will let you hone your grammar and will be a nice way to record your thoughts and feelings. Best of all, you’ll get better at English, and you’ll never have to memorize another grammar rule.

Leslie Woodford has been a language enthusiast for thirty years. She has studied language in Sweden, Italy and the South Pacific and provides her tips and insights on http://www.yourlanguageguide.com a “how to learn any language” website.

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